Nathan had the Top Design. Margaret Russell explains why.
I'm so thrilled about Barack Obama I no longer care that I was outvoted two weeks in a row on Top Design. It's so sad that bringing back Andrea, Eddie, and Natalie inspired the most energy and excitement we've seen so far. Eddie's slimy behavior towards Preston was beyond comprehension. And you're insane if you believe it's the result of selective editing by the producers.
The townhouse layouts were appalling (a kitchen larger than a living room?), yet the designers produced three distinctive visions with three vastly different approaches to design. It's a miracle the judges came to an agreement, as our deliberation was lengthy and heated (and not because of 100-degree weather and an annoying lack of A/C). We were wildly conflicted, but what truly matters is that Ondine Karady, Preston Lee, and Nathan Thomas are super talents and all deserved to win for different reasons.
Ondine created her best work yet, with rooms that showcased her lovable idiosyncrasies. Perhaps overly ambitious in her goals, her project was still finished on time despite slow-moving carpenters. The high points included the graphic artwork in her Danish Modern living room, her bold use of color in the den, the master bedroom's mirrored headboard (though clearly a knockoff of fashion designer Naeem Khan's bedroom; Ondine handed her carpenter the ELLE DECOR tear sheet), and her magical little girl's room.
Ondine has proved to be thoughtful and inventive throughout the challenges. In truth, her talent was hampered by the constraints of reality TV; she simply needs the freedom to let her creativity percolate. Ondine is surely self-aware, so it was a bold move to audition for such a high-pressure experience. But she did amazingly well, and should be so proud of what she achieved. By the way, Ondine just designed a terrific room for the Holiday House in New York, located at 2 East 63rd St., which is open through December 7th and benefits the Susan G Komen For the Cure foundation (for info go to komennyc.org).
Preston was the most polished and professional of the 13 designers. Plus, he was unfailingly respectful of everyone--contestants and crew, even the judges. He kept his composure and showed great integrity and strength of character even after each relentless barrage of obnoxious questions from my colleagues and me. He's clearly private--and remains somewhat of an enigma--which really doesn't matter. What does matter is that Preston not only has great talent and taste, he understands the business of design. Throughout every challenge he was methodical, mindful, and managerial--key qualities that define a successful designer. However, the judges felt Preston lacked the Wow factor -- that special something that transforms a mundane room into magical.
Preston nearly nailed it, but his quiet, tailored approach to his work wasn't enough to earn Top Design. (It's immaterial, but the judges didn't know his able assistant Eddie was spending more time hanging out with his pal Natalie in Nathan's condo than completing his assigned duties.) Preston's townhouse design scheme could serve as the model apartment for the Buena Vista townhouse sales office because it is so smart and will no doubt sell real estate, but it fell short in personality and pizzazz. His best effort was in the guest room/study, where a minuscule space became magnificent (OK, perhaps more in person, not on TV) with the addition of simple monochromatic molding and sophisticated furnishings.
Preston's creativity can be seen in subtle touches: smart repurposing for furnishings from last week's challenges; the earthy, saturated, frog-green hue of the living room curtains; the attention to detail in the master bedroom; and the surprisingly whimsical office, with its patterned wallpaper, vibrant artwork, and bright orange bench. I hope Top Design brings Preston increased opportunities and great success, because he deserves the chance to showcase his creativity in environments that are far more relaxed. And I truly hope he outgrows his interest in boutique-hotel design. Real life is far more interesting.
Nathan won, as his endearing personality, eccentric sensibilities, and wildly inventive design aesthetic shone through. His entrance hall/living room was my favorite space in the house, with its bold rug, statement-size armoire, and kinetic sculpture (one of two in his place that I still wish I'd arranged to buy). For me, this room was his best effort in the house, but I was perplexed that this weirdly constructed area looked fabulous yet served no purpose whatsoever. Kelly didn't care, as she has ten living rooms and doesn't use any of them, and for the public record we are dear friends and I couldn't care less that she loved Nathan and wasn't moved by Preston's efforts.
Nathan's drip painting was also terrific, and we inexplicably went wild over his cloud light fixture, although now, honestly, it looks like chicken wire with paper plates and I swear I saw something similar in his apartment when photos of his home were shown. He described his wallpaper to Natalie as "Golden Girls Disco" and I respectfully and incredulously agree. I found his master bedroom suite to be less than enthralling, his little boy's room was reasonably charming, and I truly liked the salon-style arrangement of photos and art above the sofa in his study although maybe it's just me but I wouldn't want to display some random Car Salesman of the Week portrait in my guest room.
Seriously. And I still don't get the nails in the juice pitcher. The simple truth is Nathan won because it takes not only talent but confidence to make a top design. And though Nathan was one of the last to make the cut for the show, he did brilliantly well. We can all learn from his passion and perseverance. And I think I can speak for the entire Top Design team in wishing him extraordinary success. Be sure to look for Nathan's winning project plus a Q+A with Jonathan Adler in the March 09 issue of ELLE DECOR.
A million thanks to Bravo and the Magical Elves team, plus a salute to the crew at Blogging Top Design and the naughty but spot-on TLo at tomandlorenzo.blogspot.com.